Xiangshan ("Fragrant Mountain") Park is situated at the eastern foot of Fragrant Mountain on the northwestern outskirts of Beijing, roughly 30 kilometers from the heart of Beijing. The mountain's name derives from its shape and from the fact that it is often mist-enshrouded: from a distance, the mountain resembles an incense burner, wreathed in fragrant smoke. Originally called the Fragrant Incense Burner Mountain, the name was later simplified to Fragrant Mountain. Owing to its impressive natural landscape and its close proximity to the capital city, Fragrant Mountain was destined to become a favorite retreat for Chinese emperors.
Construction of a royal park began in CE 1186, during the Jin (CE 1115-1234) Dynasty. The park's facilities were improved and expanded during the reigns of successive emperors, especially during the Yuan (CE 1279-1368), Ming (CE 1368-1644), and Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasties. In 1745, during the reign (CE 1711-1799) of Emperor Qianlong, many new halls, pavilions and gardens were added, and the park was renamed Jingyi Garden ("Garden of Tranquility and Pleasure").
Unfortunately, in 1860 and again in 1900, after the Old Summer Palace were looted and set on fire as part of the foreign response to the Boxer Rebellions, many relics in Fragrant Mountain Park were damaged by foreign invaders.* Happily, beginning in 1949, thanks to extensive restoration and development by the government of the PRC, Fragrant Mountain Park has rebounded to the pont that it has been recognized as one of the ten most prestigious parks in Beijing.
What to See
One of the most spectacular natural scenes in Fragrant Mountain Park is the sight of the brilliant red leaves of the smoke trees (Cotinus coggygria) in the fall, which set the park ablaze. Every autumn in particular (fear not: Fragrant Mountain Park is worth a visit any time of the year!), thousands of tourists make their way to the park to see the spectacular fall scenery, when the leaves of the smoke trees begin to change color. The view is best appreciated from on high, via a cable car.
Fragrant Mountain Park encompasses a number of historical sites such as: ancient Bi Yun ("Green Cloud") Temple, which combines architectural features of both the Ming and Qing Dynasties; Xiangshan Temple, which the Eight-Nation Alliance set fire to in 1860; and the Memorial Hall of Doctor Sun Yat-sen, the Chinese politician and statesman who served as the first provisional president of the Republic of China, after the fall of the Qing Dynasty. Sun later led the opposition against fellow revolutionary Yuan Shikai, with whom Sun had teamed up in order to depose Emperor Puyi, but who thereafter tried to usurp power and appoint himself as Emperor Puyi's replacement.
Other "must see" points of interest on Fragrant Mountain are Shuangqing Villa and Xianglu Peak. Shuangqing Villa is prized not only for its natural beauty but also for its place in China's revolutionary history: Shuangqing Villa was once the residence of Mao Zedong as well as an early site for the headquarters of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. Xianglu ("Incense Burner") Peak is the highest point not only on Fragrant Mountain, but for miles around. The peak is known for its cragginess, and for the treacherous climb it therefore offers to dedicated mountain climbers. Tourists, however, can appreciate the peak's rugged beauty from the comfort - and panoramic view - of a cable car.
At the top of Xianglu Peak stand three handsome pavilions, each adorned with a beautiful name: Tayun ("Cloud Steps"), Ziyan ("Purple Mist"), and Chongyang ("Double Ninth", a reference to the famous Lunar Calendar festival of the same name, and which falls on the ninth day of the ninth month of the Lunar Calendar, where the "chong" of "chongyang" means "double" and where "yang" is a reference to the "yang" of the Yin & Yang, which symbolizes femininity (the Yin symbolizes masculinity), and which covers the odd numbers such as the number nine).
* While the sacking and burning of the Old Summer Palace were indefensible acts of brute violence against a sovereign nation, the fact that the government of the Qing Dynasty at the time did nothing to check the rampant and increasing violence on the part of Chinese citizens that was being perpetrated against foreign individuals as well as foreign property - and in fact, against anything deemed to be "foreign" to China, including even Chinese citizens who embraced Christianity - gave the foreign powers in question what they felt was the moral authority to invade China and crush the Boxer Rebellion, once and for all.
Accordingly, the Eight-Nation Alliance (Great Britain, the United States, Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Tsarist Russia and Japan) sent forces against China in 1900 and managed, after much violence and bloodshed, to put an end to the uprisings, at least for a time. In 1901, Emperor Guangxu was humiliatingly obliged to sign a treaty, the so-called Boxer Protocol of 1901, which greatly disadvantaged China, handing over a number of territorial and trade concessions to member states of the Eight-Nation Alliance.
The sequel to this humiliating treaty can perhaps be compared to the sequel to the humiliating treaty that Germany was obliged to sign less than twenty years later at the close of WWI, the Treaty of Versailles, which also greatly disadvantaged Germany, as it saddled the country with a war reparations debt that was so large as to make of the German nation an indentured slave, as it were, and which caused the later-to-be-famous British economist, John Maynard Keynes, who was serving on the British war reparations delegation, to warn that war reparations of this magnitude would only result in greater social unrest in Germany, as the German people would defy such humiliation. Hitler's subsequent rise to power, directly in response to the humiliating Treaty of Versailles, can perhaps therefore be likened to the various people's uprisings in China in the early 1900s, spurred on by revolutionaries, that continued to plague the Qing Dynasty until, in the end, these uprisings had swollen into a revolution that swept the Qing Dynasty from power in 1911.
Solo Adventure Tips:
How to Get There?
From central Beijing, take any of the following municipal buses directly to the park: 318, 331, 360, 714, 733, 737, and 834.
10 Yuan per person.
From 8:30AM to 5:00PM.
1) The 1400-meter cable car goes from the northernmost gate of the park (in the east) to Guijianxi Peak in the west. The fare is 30 Yuan per person, one way, and 50 Yuan per person for a tround trip.
2) The best season to visit is clearly the fall, due the red leaves of the smoke tree. The latter part of the month of October is a safe bet.
3) Food & Drink: the Pine Forest Restaurant in the park offers an elegantly designed dining hall that can accommodate either the individual tourist or smaller groups of tourists, and a number of spacious banquet halls that can accommodate large tourist groups.
4) Hotels: the Fragrant Mountain Villa Hotel and the Mengyang Garden Hotel offer both standard and deluxe accomodations. Prices range from 200 to 600 Yuan per night.